by James Langton
Mid-afternoon light filtered in through the thin specked windows, warm and comforting.
Agnes took off her cardigan, tossing it across an old ottoman.
Was that the time? It couldn’t be. Had they been going all morning?
She turned, expecting Julia to have given up in defeat, or pure boredom.
She had tried to paint the exercise as something exciting, but in reality clearing out the attic was just throwing out trash you’d become attached to.
‘What are these Oma?’
Agnes hadn’t heard her sneak up on her, emerging from a dark corner of the room where the grand piano sat covered in dusty sheets. Her expression was intrigued, excitable. Tucked beneath her left arm was a large leather-bound book.
Agnes stiffened, lips tight.
‘That is nothing, it’s just something that belonged to my father. But if you look in that cabinet under the window you’ll find all your mother’s old toys, some dolls in there I’m sure.’
But Julia was already flicking the pages, eyes falling on the detailed pictures, reading slowly.
‘But these are just fairytales Oma. Old tales like they taught us in kindergarten.’
Agnes closed her eyes, and remembered. Standing at her bay window, looking out at the fields and the rows and rows of people, grey rags hanging from their bones.
How old was she then? Younger than Julia, for sure.
‘My father gave it to me. I used to read all night. I never had any friends when I was your age.’
‘During the War?’
‘Yes, during the War.’
‘What do you remember about it?’
‘Not much sweetheart, I was younger than you. Let’s get some lunch.’
They walked down the steep stairs and Julia ran ahead, down the landing.
Agnes grabbed the balustrade, and she remembered everything, every second.
Every ounce of guilt she had ever felt came flooding back, like emerging from deep water.
She had always blamed her mother more, probably unfairly. How did she stay with him, when he knew the full extent. To this very day that thought made her skin crawl.
From the kitchen came, ’Oma, why did the War happen?’
A moment she had been dreading for a lifetime.